WRITTEN BY TAYLOR BOYCE:

Epochs -noun: Periods of time in history or a person’s life, typically marked by notable events or particular characteristics.

Music, and our consumption of it, is largely about the epoch in which we live. I speak beyond genre here (e.g. British Invasion – Heavy Metal – Dubstep – etc.), about all the experiential and tangible things that make being a true audiophile something to be proud of. From the politics and cultures which catalyze the songs, to instruments used to make the sounds, and today I uniquely address the process of procuring physical media itself on which the stuff is distributed.

…So, given that we, listener… we, rabble… we, legion drive so much of the industry, doesn’t our method of consumption shape the demand? Historically speaking, absolutely. And, I contend that we stand at the gateway to 2018 with a pressing impetus to look back on our Epoch; The Digital Media Age, and the black flag we’ve flown and are fast forgetting.

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Enter History Crash-Course:

In late 1999, Shawn Fanning (and posse) gave us the most famous Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing service: Napster. With this platform, digitally encoded Mp3 files (Remember file names like: Black In Black – AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, STYX, Rolling Stones, Rock) were shared and searched for by keyword for FREE. This revolutionized music consumption, and the casual user who had formerly spent a lifetime amassing (*gasp*) hard copy physical media could store thousands of songs on a single gigabyte of space in their computer’s hard drive. Global user- ship spiked to 80 MILLION PEOPLE… which, considering folks still used AOL and dial-up 14.4K modem connections to download songs, is insane. Radiohead’s 2000 album A Kid leaked into it’s new veins, and the band rocketed to stardom for the first time before the album’s legitimate release date because of the access afforded to the casual listener…
All was not well in the digital-murk of milk and honey though… Lars Urlich (of Metallica) and Dr. Dre raged, donned business suits, and walked into to U.S. District court to demand their work be removed. In public and private, pundits squawked, Napster swung the ban-hammer to restore order and $$$ for the ‘poor starving artists,’ and sabers rattled loudly in the federal government’s chambers. When the dust settled, Napster went quietly into stasis in July of 2001. …but power had firmly been wrested from the gilded fingers of the record labels.

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Like a beast of yore, between 2001 and 2010, countless P2P file sharing services went online. Morpheus, Kazaa, Gnuttella, WinMX, and more began surreptitiously filling the void left by everyone’s crazy uncle Napster. If you’re 25 or older, chances are your library STILL has mislabeled 192kb or worse audio quality tracks from some artist you don’t really know but really liked the sound of back in High School. Sure, the ever-quickly shuttering arcades and C.R.T. T.V.’s still flashed messages reminding us that “You wouldn’t steal a car…” (Piracy. It’s a crime.) and we laughed. Why? Because, proudly running roughshod over the concerned parties and politicos, we had claimed out position as skilled sailors sound-surfing the digital seas, and our booty captured was the free-on-delivery access to all libraries that any audiophile or leisure listener had always wanted. Born in this moment was what I dub the ‘Black Flag Epoch’ in media consumption, when we finally had true control over how we were consuming what we loved. We all sailed off to our own iPod islands with our booty, kicked up our feet, and threw on Island in the Sun. …And now, in 2017, I stand aghast as I look around and see that we’re lowering our flags, sheathing our sabers, and kneeling gladly to kowtow at a new sovereign of the seas; Digital Streaming Media.

End History Crash-Course:

Our old raiding crews have mutinied. We have pressed ‘pause’ on plunder, and pulled up anchor to sail for a comfy ‘cloud’ port where we’re could spending precious pirated purses for a little bit of the good internet connection… …problem is, no one’s leaving. This phenomena, the birthing of an ever-growing hydra that we’ve all become beholden to wearing names like YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, ‘Cloud’ etc., makes us lose our sea legs when it comes time to get immutable access to high quality content. When before you’d simply hear a song’s siren call and sail for a WMA or Mp3 (320k/b plz) in the platform of your choosing via the digital place of piracy… Or play the good little Malchick and pay your pretty polly for a pressed dubplate in the record shop… now you’d simply record a 10 second sample for a droid to analyze, and then tell you what digital platform will let you stream a file in it’s likeness (often for a 9.99$ monthly user fee), that even afterward you don’t own a copy of. They co-opted the movement, man. Black Flags lowered. Ships brine and rot in the harbors of tomorrow.

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Our purses plundered, our skill sapped, and the height of rudeness as we grow fat on the lamb: Advertisements seeping into the background of the songs we’d originally sought to emancipate from the clutches of corporate influence on our ears. This multi-headed beast arose out the deep sometime around 2005, who’s heads begin talking wildly about Netflix’s handy little mail- to-you DVD service being downloadable, making Real Player’s platform able to beam you any song from a single massive library. Some scoffed, Blockbuster shuttered, Sam Goody rotted, and now as of 2016, Netflix ALONE is responsible for 37% of ALL North American internet bandwidth traffic and Sandvine places all streaming (music and video) at 70%. Numbers speak for themselves; We’re not salty old dogs anymore.

Some of us are plenty happy with the above paragraph. Like the Crimson Permanent Insurance of Monty Python yore, we keep close to the ship which gives us life. And, in this case, the ship is an edifice or environment with high-speed streaming internet access. Keep the pipe open, and you can access as you please. Plus, you’ll need not build stores of the sounds you love… You’ve got all you ever need on tap, with nary a complaint from your cellular carrier or ISP… so long as you foot the bill every month for the service. …I join this camp periodically, when new songs come out and I’m not ready to dredge the digital sea and simply want to surf for the sounds. Turn on, plug in, turn up, fade out. Just accept that your payment for participation is:

1) Every keystroke is logged into a server somewhere that tailors your experience subtly to match your browsing history. These folks happily keep you in the stasis you self-create, based on what you ‘might’ like… and their phyrexian droid brain algorithms that pump the ‘up next’ to you don’t care about your true taste… you are literally a number to them, and their service is designed to keep you THERE, not make you YOU.
2) More and more artists will become proprietarily platforms allied to protect and monetize their intellectual property and tax for use, and therein you cannot access everyone equitably. Subscription to one platform does not guarantee holistic library access.
3) Going offline often means limited or no access to your songs. Or, better, want a copy to funk with in your own laboratory? Cross your fingers that these services provide a modicum of downloadability, but don’t count on it. Most of the time, you’ll need a 3rd party source to rip these into abominable 192kb or worse .mp3’s or worse.
4) You are O.K. with censorship from the ‘full gamut’ of sound. With every new user added to the paid libraries that you don’t own, these services get more power to officiate what ‘music’ is and isn’t. They can buy controlling interest, and cut out those they don’t like or deem ‘worthy’ enough. Hegemony. If I want a particular song, and they aren’t about it… I don’t expect to find it, as it isn’t my ‘library’ way down the pipe… sucks to suck, literally.
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Personally, I’m not O.K. with needed to kowtow to the rules of this lord or that. And, the above list could be easily re-written as declaration of independence instead of my complaints. I implore you to reconsider your ascription to the ideals of ‘search and stream,’ as it slowly makes it harder for not only independent users but independent PRODUCERS to break into the scene and get heard. And, if we’re not listening to music to find that new-new, that hair-raising, euphoric sound from the artist you searched for but never really ‘knew’… then what they hell are we in it for?

Remember; The diehard pirate never gives up, and never surrenders. The face you wear in port isn’t who you are out in the burning salt. We’re still out there, going doggedly after that leyline of music, tilling our own musical destiny, and using resources like Soundcloud, Bandcamp to keep our tribe alive and fed while the ports of “streaming” house our most seasoned hands. Some of us still dredge, practicing .mp3 necromancy with surreptitious services to keep our line to our auditory horizon straight and true, others listen to old-school internet radio stations… and let unseen hands pushing platters make our hearts trill to the songs we didn’t know we were looking for, while others still simply pay the artist-crew directly, making sure their coffers are full so they can get the next E.P. up and kicking bass-weight out of the veneer gun-smoke mist and into town to wake the people.

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I contend that, for the D.J. or producer, for the independent out off the grid, and the abecedarian librarian, there’ll never be a substitute to the solo stockpile since it provides the access and ownership we need. And the process of searching out that stockpile gives us the connection we need to both platforms and people to keep the sails full. It also has this nifty effect of keeping BY the people, FOR the people… since there’s no middle-man muddying up the waters with their own proprietary passage taxes. If you’ve been incensed to action, I remind you that there’s always a spot on the crew open, and that we’d be honored to have someone else who values creation, keeps a keen ear and perspective, and is willingness to do the dirt standing with us side-by-side rigging under our Black Flag.

…I’m not saying abandon the Streaming steamer.
I am asking you to ask yourself if it’s as comfortable as you think it is.
I am asking you to consider what’s been paid to get on board.
And, I am reminding you of your raider’s heart, your corsair’s company long forgotten, and your place astride a great hulking ship taking what’s YOURS from others who’d tax unfairly for it. Black Flags flashing into the sunset.